Evil Corporations & You: An Interview With Christie Golden

Evil Corporations & You: An Interview With Christie Golden 3

Ancillary materials for games are nothing new. There have been toys, posters, shirts and many other products based on popular games, and novels are in there somewhere too. BioWare has been especially good about rounding out their complex stories with novels that expand on the worlds and settings, but Ubisoft has been doing some interesting work as well. We got a chance to talk with Christie Golden, who has written novels for Star Trek, StarCraft, WarCraft and is obviously well versed in playing in the worlds of these big properties. Now she’s done the same for Assassin’s Creed, with a book that partly explores the historical worlds of the Assassins, and partly looks at the corporate culture of Abstergo Entertainment, the corporation trying to uncover the secrets of the Assassins.

christiegoldeninsert1Comics Gaming Magazine: Were you excited to work with the Assassin’s Creed series again?

Christie Golden:  Very much so!  I had such a great time working on “Blackbeard: The Lost Journal,” and the the Employee Handbook was a terrific idea that I had a blast working on.

CGM: What are the challenges when blending history with fiction?

CG: It’s almost a triple challenge when you are writing not just historical fiction, but “history” as another party has created it. I of course want to tell a good story, and while this isn’t a novel per se, it’s definitely fiction. I also want to make sure I know my history, so I did quite a bit of research on the French Revolution, as well as the characters who are featured in the “Historical Personages” segments. At the same time, I couldn’t disagree with the unique history created by the Assassin’s Creed games. So it was definitely something that stretched me creatively!

CGM: What was the relationship like with Ubisoft in creating this book?

CG: I have the most contact with my editor at Insight Editions, Vanessa Lopez, but there was some back and forth with Ubisoft this time around. They, more than anyone, seemed delighted by the idea of the Employee Handbook, and were great sports about providing some inside jokes (such as letting me use names of Ubisoft employees in places!)

CGM: There are a number of Abstergo corporate documents in the book like a non-disclosure agreement. Did you do any research to work on your “corporate-speak”?

CG: Is it bad to say I didn’t have to? Perhaps I have missed my calling and should be writing advertising copy!  Seriously, it was great fun to write, and I found myself giggling quite a bit. I did do online research on how things like memos, the NDA, and so on would be written, to get the verbiage and structure right. But for the most part, I just let myself have fun with it.  My favorite contribution was the suggestion for the new logo for “Herne+”. That still makes me laugh when I see it.

CGM: The book has a lot of beautiful artwork from many of the games, and some concept artwork for the Abstergo office. It’s a beautiful building, but after writing their corporate policies would you work there?

CG: I think I would balk at agreeing to have my memories wiped… but then again I hear they have a great benefits package.  With dental.

CGM: Abstergo and the Templars have always been the antagonists in Assassin’s Creed, but Ubisoft has always tried to make their relationship with the Assassins more grey than black and white. How did you strike that balance in the book?

CG: With the storyline of Unity, the lines blurred even more. There were friendships here between Assassins and Templar, and in the case of Arno and Elise, something much deeper. The conflict is long-standing, but I think it’s poignant to realize that sometimes, the gulf can be bridged. When you read the book, I hope you are really pulling for Elise and Arno to get everyone to work together—but then, there’d be no game.

CGM: What research did you do to write the letters from the different characters in the game, like Arno or Robert Fraser?

CG: One of my gifts as a writer is an ability to imagine dialogue so clearly I can almost hear it. After having the chance to read the script of Unity, I could very easily replicate Arno’s playful manner of speaking. As Fraser was my own creation, I got to determine how he spoke and thought. I envisioned him as a rather stolid, boring character when we meet him, so when things start to happen to him as he spends more time “in the chair,” we see him becoming more artistic and lyrical.

CGM: Did you have any creative input in the way those characters were portrayed in this book and if so what was that input?

CG: I really…hmmm, “enjoy” isn’t the word, but…writing Arno’s letters to his father was very meaningful to me.  In order to properly portray poor Fraser’s confusion and pain as he began to identify more and more with Arno, I took a lot of time in carefully crafting his word choice, inflections, and so on.

CGM: There is a lot of background on characters and events from previous games in the book. Is this for newcomers to the franchise who want to catch up or for longtime fans who want to dig deeper into the story?

CG: I think it has something to offer both groups. Longtime fans who know the details of the game will get a laugh out of spotting references from other games in other Abstergo Entertainment “products” (I especially enjoy “History’s Hitmen”). Newcomers might find it especially entertaining–their “progress” as a Templar agent should be particularly exciting as nothing is familiar yet. And everyone is going to appreciate some of the amazing artwork provided by Insight Editions. It’s just breathtaking.
chrisgoldeninterheaderCGM: At the end of the novel, a letter mentions the Templars are aware that Robert Fraser leaked Abstergo documents to one of the Assassins, Bishop. Will we see that information manifest itself in the next game and what does that mean for the future of the series?

CG: I have no idea if we’ll see that connection… but wouldn’t it be fun?

CGM: Where can people buy their own copy of the Abstergo Entertainment: Employee Handbook?

CG: Online, you can order it Amazon.com, BN.com, and www.insighteditions.com. Elsewhere, I’ve seen in Barnes & Noble.  Check your local independent bookstore too!

Videogame Globetrotting

Videogame Globetrotting 2

International travel is expensive and tiring, but it’s (usually) well worth doing. Aside from the obvious benefits of expanding our point of view by interacting with other cultures, spending time in a different country also allows us to see and experience things—landscapes and architecture—that we don’t have at home. A large part of what makes travel worthwhile is inhabiting places that we usually see only through photos and film—walking the narrow streets of an old European city or exploring the natural environment of a completely different climate. And while they by no means replace the real thing, videogames are capable of replicating travel to a greater degree than any other media.

In many well-made games, players get the chance to feel as if they’re actually in the environments created by the developer. Though we can never go to places like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s Hyrule or Metal Gear Solid’s Shadow Moses complex, the time we spend exploring these fictional environments makes them feel as if they really exist. Because the interactivity of games like these allows players to move around and manipulate virtual spaces, a greater sense of physical space is created in them than would be if rendered in other media. Spending hours learning the layout of a videogame world often makes it feel as if we’ve actually visited these places.

Assassin’s Creed Unity
Assassin’s Creed Unity

Taking advantage of this effect by recreating real-world locations can result in something that approximates the experience of travelling to them. I may not have been to Paris, but running across a digital version of its 18

th

century rooftops in Assassin’s Creed Unity has helped me learn the general layout of the city and its landmarks. Likewise, while I’ve never visited Tokyo, games from the Yakuza series provide a sense of the atmosphere and urban architecture of the Japanese districts  it models. Videogames that recreate real-world locations are a bit like travel shows or movies filmed in beautiful, international locales. Only, the ability to interact with these digital facsimiles can make them even more involving—and memorable—than simply watching film or TV.

When an array of settings is featured in a single game—as entries to series like Call of Duty and Uncharted so often do—the thrill is even greater. While the way these games go about their virtual globetrotting—blowing up historic architecture and shooting at the locals—isn’t exactly the best way to soak in the details of a foreign environment, the enjoyment that comes from simply experiencing them is undeniable. How else are we supposed to visit England, France, Germany, the United States, Czech Republic, India, and Russia in a single afternoon if not through a game like Modern Warfare 3? This kind of whirlwind tour across the world forms the same kind of attraction as what viewers find in spy movies, where we get to watch a jet-setting character like James Bond or Jason Bourne fly across the globe and hang out in a number of different cities within the length of a single film.

 Uncharted 2
Uncharted 2

Videogames willing to fully lean into this approach to settings—ones that are excited about taking players on a tour of a given part of the world—are appealing because they (at least partially) translate the inherent excitement of travel into entertainment. It only makes sense for game creators to do this when appropriate. Aside from the inherent advantages of keeping an experience engaging through ever-changing scenery, developers aren’t hamstrung by the limitations of obtaining shooting permits for notoriously expensive cities. While modelling and detailing the streets of, say, an abandoned New York City may still require a tremendous amount of work, there’s no need to deal with the type of issues that come with blocking off inhabited streets for a film production. If significant development effort is already being funneled into crafting a variety of real-world environments, it only makes sense to give the player a chance to see more of the world while doing so.

The industry’s mainstream will likely continue to focus on impressive graphics and action-laden spectacle. And if that’s the case, players can at least hope that these games will take advantage of a few of the medium’s innate advantages to take us to places we may not otherwise get a chance to visit.

Unreal Engine 4 Now Available For Free

Unreal Engine 4 Now Available For Free

Game development company Epic Games has announced they are making the widely used Unreal Engine 4 free to download and update.

As of early 2014, Unreal Engine 4 was available to anyone who paid a $19 per month subscription fee.

“The past year has been a whirlwind for everyone at Epic Games. Our community has grown tremendously,” says Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney in a blog post on the Unreal Engine web site.  “The quality and variety of creative work being done has been breathtaking. When we asked people to submit their projects to be shown this year at GDC, we had the challenge of picking just 8 from over 100 finalists that were all good enough to show.”

The engine is available to anyone and can be used for game development, educational purposes, architecture, VR visualization, film and animation. It’s free availability presents a milestone for creative people anywhere in the industry, whether that be indie game or high-end blockbuster development.

Although originally developed for first person shooter games, Unreal Engine is responsible for many successful 2D mobile games, RPGs and stealth games. Some games built with Unreal Engine include Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Batman: Arkham Knight and Dead Island 2.

Once a developer using the free engine ships their game or application, they must pay a 5 per cent royalty on gross revenue after the first $3,000 per product, per quarter according to Sweeney’s blog post.

“Epic succeeds only when creators succeed,” he says.

Unreal will have a booth at this week’s Game Developers Conference and will have some of their best new games available to play during the Expo.

Valve Confirms VR Gear, Teases Something With “3”

Valve Confirms VR Gear, Teases Something With “3” - 2015-03-02 13:56:25

So the rumors about Valve working on a virtual reality device are not only true, their partner has come out and confirmed it. Valve’s particular VR hat that they’re throwing into the ring is called “Vive,” and their partner is, surprisingly, HTC, better known for making smartphones that are actually holding up pretty well against the juggernaut that is Apple iPhone love.

What’s even more impressive is that Valve is also committing to a release date. Or, at least, a release year. Unlike Project Morpheus and Oculus which both officially have no launch date, Valve is committing Vive to both a dev kit and retail release for the 2015 holiday season, when most people are going to be making big ticket purchases anyway. The Vive is taking its own unique approach to the need for monitoring movement by building an array of cellular phone camera lenses all over the unit so that the head mounted display itself can determine its location by looking at the room. It will combine this with a couple of “base stations” so that the unit—which is still wired—will have precise location tracking even if the user gets up and starts walking around, something that Valve would like to see happen, so as to differentiate it from Oculus Rift, which is currently still recommended as a seated experience.

Also, Valve is hosting an event at GDC tomorrow. Specifically, they are hosting something on the third hour of the third day of the third month of the year. The talk, ostensibly is about physics, but hey, that’s a lot of “threes” in there, isn’t there? Wonder what that could be about…

Supergirl Gets Super Supporting Cast

Supergirl Gets Super Supporting Cast

Anyone that’s been following the media treatment of that other Kryptonian knows that Supergirl is getting her own, Snyder-Free television series courtesy of American network CBS. But just today, we got news of some interesting additions to the ongoing cast. In addition to Calista “Ally McBeal” Flockhart as Cat Grant, we now have a serious blast from the Kryptonian past in form of Dean Cain and Helen Slater.

For those too young to remember—or exist during—the 80s, Helen Slater was the first and original Supergirl in the 1984 movie of the same name. Similarly for those too young to remember—or exist—during the 90s, Dean Cain is the one, the only, the original Superman/Clark Kent during the successful run of the ABC series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

There’s been no mention at this time about what roles Cain and Slater will playing, but it’s pretty clear that someone in production for this new series is familiar with the media legacy of the Superman Family. And is willing to give a nod of appreciation. That’s still no guarantee that the show will be a success, but it’s hard not to get hopeful about the idea of a beautiful blonde tossing cars and bad guys around.